Sunny season draws to a close in Ocean City

Smoking restrictions on the horizon for next year

  • Ocean City beachgoers relaxing on the beach in late August, as the summer season draws to a close.
Ocean City beachgoers relaxing on the beach in late August,… (Baltimore Sun, Baltimore…)
September 18, 2014|By Julie Scharper | The Baltimore Sun

Dumser's soft ice cream cones were still twirled perilously high, Thrashers' french fries were still doused in vinegar, and the surf was clear and cold as ever, but there were signs of change in Ocean City this summer.

In some cases, literally: Town officials posted signs along the boardwalk asking visitors to refrain from using profanity.

It was an unusual move in an interesting season at Maryland's most popular resort town. The planning board discussed curtailing weekly rentals in some neighborhoods but ultimately rejected the idea. The owner of Ocean Gallery — a local landmark marked by layers of hand-scrawled signs — said he was considering moving his business to Hollywood for a reality show. Long-debated smoking restrictions for the beach and boardwalk were finally approved and are to begin next year.

And let's not forget the pole dancer who set up on the boardwalk.

Perhaps all the news from Ocean City helped bolster tourism.

After a slow start to the summer, business owners said sales picked up, particularly on weekends.

"Monday through Friday was rough, but the weekends were strong enough to make up for it," said Roy Gibble, the manager of Polock Johnny's hot dog restaurant on the boardwalk.

Gibble said he thought this summer's sunny weather prompted many to take spur-of-the-moment beach trips.

Katrina Elirari, the owner of The Muze Cafe, on Somerset Street, said she had slightly more business this year than last. Unlike Gibble, she said she did not notice a dip in business during the week.

Her open-air cafe, which serves crepes and espresso beverages, is a little different from the typical Ocean City restaurant, which is more likely to specialize in pizza, doughnuts, ice cream, or a combination of the three.

"We get a lot of new faces," said Elirari. "People are always happy to find crepes at the beach."

Down the street, at Mike's Surf & Cycle, owner Mike Miculinic said "business has not been stellar" at the bike and equipment rental shop for 30 years.

"Maybe the days of the spectacular summer are over," said Miculinic, who speculated that the plethora of bike rental shops had made the market too competitive.

But data provided by the Ocean City Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Association showed that room tax and restaurant tax revenue was on track to be higher than last year.

June tourism took a hit after the snowy winter led school districts to tack on extra days, said Susan Jones, the association's executive director. But business surged in July and August, she said.

Jones' association crafted promotions to draw tourists during the week, including Hotel Week, a series of deals and promotions offered to those who stayed three or more weeks in late August.

Ocean City also organized a week for Jeep enthusiasts in August — including a chance to drive Jeeps down the beach — in addition to the traditional September Bike Week for motorcycle riders, Jones said.

The city also sponsored an inaugural sand sculpture competition Aug. 18, Jones said. The sculptures, which included elaborate pirate ships and biblical scenes, still lined a portion of the boardwalk two weeks later.

Next year, the city is debating moving the competition a little later. The end of August and the beginning of September are popular weeks for retired people and the parents of young children to visit, Jones said, since older children and teens have returned to school.

If some Ocean City officials get their way, students and their parents will be able to linger a little longer at the beach in coming years. The town has joined lobbying efforts to prevent public schools from starting before Labor Day, Jones said.

The town has taken several steps to polish the city's family-friendly image, which suffered after several violent incidents the summer before. In addition to the "No profanity, please" signs, the city installed surveillance cameras along the boardwalk and posted more police officers on foot patrol, particularly during the influx of teens who arrive in June, said Mayor Rick Meehan.

Amanda Cantine, the owner of Fat Cats Airbrush, said she did not think the profanity signs made a difference.

"I've heard just as much colorful language," she said from her perch overlooking the boardwalk.

Business was steady at her store, where the most popular designs feature beach scenes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It wasn't as good as the pre-recession years, but a little better than last year, she said.

Cantine and her employee, airbrush artist Brian Lemus, debated whether the smoking limits would have an effect on business. She didn't think it would draw more customers; he thought it would drive his fellow smokers away.

"I'm not taking a five-minute walk through the beach and the boardwalk to smoke," he said.

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